Haters frustrated by reasonable explanation for social reader apps' sudden decline

It was a moment of vindication for anyone whose Facebook feed had been rendered unusable by mindless updates on their friends' reading and listening histories: Jeff Bercovici reported Monday that the number of users of the Washington Post's social reader had plunged. BuzzFeed's John Herrman and Poynter's Jeff Sonderman picked up the string, noting it wasn't just the Post -- all social readers seemed to be going off a cliff.

Then Josh Constine had to spoil all the schadenfreude by pointing out that everyone in the world hadn't suddenly wised up to how annoying these things are: "The user loss is likely due to the transition to 'trending articles,' a new way of surfacing recently read articles in the news feed that Facebook is testing," Constine wrote. He updated with confirmation from Postie Ryan Kellett that Facebook changes had dunked its social reader numbers. Tanya Cordrey, the Guardian's director of digital development, told Justin Ellis much the same thing: "Major changes made in the last month or so by Facebook have indeed resulted in a fall in usage since early April," Cordrey wrote Ellis in an email.

But dang, those things are annoying! So much so that a reader named Joseph Blake fired back at Kellett's tweet:

You can see this pattern all over stories about the social-reader nonmageddon: "No. It's declining because I don't want to feel forced into stalking everyone that reads/listens/watchs something on the internet and is also on my friends list. It's creepy and its excessive.. especially when I can link an article I like just as easy," Edward Lewis commented on Constine's piece. Herrman updated his post with Kellett's tweet, adding, "So it's not entirely a matter of fatigue" and a survey of tweeps talking about how much they hate social readers. "Still, many people seem turned off by the tools, and this may be a good example of function following form," Daniel Terdiman wrote on CNET.

But as Sonderman pointed out in a post today, news organizations were well aware of how many people hated social readers before Facebook grabbed the ball away from them:

They know these apps aren’t for everyone, and the minority of users who do opt-in can still have an impact. The Post says that more than three-quarters of their social readers are under 35 years old — the elusive younger readers that newspapers have not traditionally captured.

But all is not lost! Surely some of the same people who hate social readers also hate Yahoo? This infographic looks really grim.

Correction: This post originally misspelled Josh Corstine's first name.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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